By WILLY EYA
A former Governor of Anambra State and a prominent leader of thought in the South East, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, is one man that does not fear to speak his mind on any issue. Ezeife believes that the situation in Nigeria is not irredeemable despite the challenges facing her as a nation. In this interview, the elder statesman bares his mind on various issues affecting the nation. Excerpts…
From your vantage position as an elder statesman, what do you make of the current state of the nation?
My attitude to the current state of the nation is guided by my belief that the hands of God are in the emergence of Jonathan as President. Not only does God not make mistakes, He, indeed knows what is best for Nigeria. It does not, therefore, matter what happens or how man perceives what happens. Jonathan, I believe, is a tool in the hands of God to shape Nigeria as He wants – to let God’s design for Nigeria manifest. I am beginning to think that the manifest destiny of Jonathan Presidency is the structural transformation of Nigeria from a country which appears permanently shipwrecked to a country where things work – to a country that works. From “longest” time ago and for solid reasons, the potential greatness of Nigeria has been celebrated. Hope has increasingly deemed on the actualization of that potentiality. Jonathan transformation, or the structural transformation which comes with Jonathan presidency, may yet actualize the potential greatness of Nigeria. Jonathan may not personally be leading the structural transformation agenda, but it cannot be lost on any observer that, for the first time in Nigeria, the North, the South, the East and the West are calling for a National Conference. So are all the ethnic groups in Nigeria, the large and the small.
National Conference for what?
What else, but to restructure Nigeria for peace and meaningful progress! No achievement can be greater than this.
Do you think that the present administration under President Jonathan would win the war against Boko Haram?
The war against Boko Haram is not for Jonathan to win or lose. It is a war that Nigeria must win to survive. God helping us, the sun is already setting on Boko Haram. It is not because of the great arsenal of Jonathan; it is not because of the great knowledge and strategic acumen of Col. Dasuki (which are evident); it is not because of the great resolve of those Nigerians who are so upset by Boko Haram. None of the above! Boko Haram must die because it is not the will of God that evil should triumph over good. Because God has so willed, the futility of Boko Haram is dawning on its strongest Nigerian supporters. The original founders of Boko Haram, whose simple objective is the Islamization of Nigeria, have realized that their objective is mission impossible – inevitably. Those who supported Boko Haram to make Nigeria ungovernable for Jonathan, as well as those who thought of Boko Haram violence, as a strategy for winning back power, are realizing the futility of the effort: that if they insist on “born to rule”, they will have only themselves to rule over. What is more, the longer they sustain that violence, the longer they stay out of power in Nigeria. The poor souls who supported Boko Haram in protest against bad governance which resulted in the abject poverty and ignorance of the people, are realizing that, while a short offensive would have served their purpose, and raised national consciousness to their plight, the prolonged offensive is making themselves and the people they depended on poorer now and much poorer in the longer term. They have achieved the negation of everything they had intended. It remains, possibly, the suspected or speculated foreign sponsors who, it was thought, wanted to exploit Boko Haram as a tool to make their prophesies self-fulfilling. Nigeria must survive. Jonathan structural transformation will assure that. Most Nigerians may not agree, but it is possible that Jonathan’s perceived slow and prayerful approach to the problem may have saved the country from the worst from Boko Haram.
What is the way forward to deal with the insecurity situation in the country?
I cannot claim any special knowledge in the area of national security. Apart from insecurity resulting from political motive, which includes political thuggery, there are other forms and sources of insecurity. These include theft, sexual harassment including rape, arson, ethno-religious conflicts, robbery, armed robbery, kidnapping etc. I think that, of the major ones, the easiest to deal with is kidnapping. Principally, community policing should play the dominant role. And youth groups like OPC, MASSOB etc can be empowered to play major roles. I do not want to dwell on security problems in which I do not know much. I do have one specific element of solution to advocate. It is “Safe Whistle Blowing”. From coup making to corruption, from kidnapping, even kidnapping led by the security agents who are paid to combat the crime, to all other conspiracy-related crimes and sources of insecurity, Safe Whistle Blowing can make a great impact on crime control. The key requirement is that the whistle blower is assured of his/her anonymity. And I know of a Nigerian group who claim to have developed a system that guarantees this. They claim that as long as the destination of a call is to designated security numbers, not even the service providers, whose systems are used, can identify the caller.
Do you agree with those who insist that insecurity in the North is a strategy by the power elites in that part of the country to ‘recapture’ power in 2015?
In my answer to the second question, I indicated the view that among the several motivations for promoting Boko Haram is the idea of some that it will help return power to the North. There are even those who suggest that power went to the South-South as a result of a desire to appease the violent groups in the region. I have indicated, a number of times, that Boko Haram will for a long time, deny presidential power to North. With the seeming desperation by the North to recapture power from the South, do you think Nigeria would ever remain the same? Voices of reason come from every part of Nigeria, including the North, or the deep North. Some very serious Northern minds, in high social and political positions, have categorically advised the North against risky gambles to regain power. The reason for amalgamation is still very much with us – and the gap may be getting wider. Why should the beneficiaries of amalgamation spearhead or court “disamalgamation.” The problem is that our politicians do not stop and ask the question “power for what” outside of self? The North has ruled Nigeria for more than 38 years in her 51 years of independence. What does Nigeria, and especially the North, have to show for this long dominance. Some have claimed that the North ruled and ruined Nigeria and ruined the North even more. Indeed, this is one of the reasons given for Boko Haram. Do we ever stop to think about the interest of the Talakawas of the North, the down-trodden, and the disappearing middle class, everywhere in Nigeria? Is the poor result of Northern dominance in the leadership of Nigeria due to weaknesses of the individual leaders – all of them- or a necessary consequence of a social system. When should we stop thinking only of the plunder incentive, propensity and possibilities, in the holding of political power? When do we stop thinking of self, relations, in-laws and “out-laws”? Is there a place for the interest of Nigeria, the largest concentration of blacks on earth? Shouldn’t our political objective be dominated by a desire to develop into a super power in this world, so as to satisfy what clearly looks like our manifest destiny of leading the Blacks of the earth, being their big brother and rallying point, and, above all, raising the dignity and respect of Blacks in the world? Must we remain a source of shame for Blacks – big among them like the penny among higher valued money units. Do we look among us to see who can lead the country out of the present mess created by man, in a country, in every way, designed by the Almighty God Himself for unmatched greatness? No leader of Nigeria, military or civilian, has shown a craving for the economic development and growth of Nigeria. Obasanjo did a bit well as Head of state, but after he was brought out from where he was consigned for three years to rats and mosquitoes, for no just cause, he appeared to have decided to take vengeance on all Nigerians, especially on the far North and the South East. Jonathan showed the right signs during campaigns but, so far, Boko Haram has not let us observe his true performance. When the development and growth of Nigeria become the objectives, the North should stay far away from her leadership, until they are ready in some fundamental ways.
Corruption is arguably the most challenging problem facing the country today. Do you think Jonathan has the strength of character to fight it?
Some time ago, I told an audience at the Yar’Adua Centre that, “the soul of Nigeria is going …going … !!!” Corruption has eaten up the consciences and souls of Nigerians and has induced them to the worship of almighty god of crass materialism. We can see fugitive mentality in Nigerians’ treasury plunder activity. The fugitive is so alarmed and frightened, so stupefied, by what he saw, his terrifying experience, that he does not know when to stop running. Nigerians in plundering the coffers of the state behave like this fugitive. No consideration is given to what can be done with the money being hauled. Corruption in low and high places is the root cause of our many problems from industrial unrest to small and not-so-small thievery, from armed robbery to kidnapping, from unemployment to poor infrastructure development, from import dependence to the inability for our manufacturers to compete with their foreign counterpart, and the consequent de-industrialisation of Nigeria, etc. What to do? When Jonathan is allowed to lead, he must adopt a ruthless “do-as-I-do” policy – keeping himself clean and swiftly weeding out the contaminated.
Many are afraid that there might not be a country called Nigeria after the 2015 election. Do you share that pessimism?
My immediate reaction to this is “arrant nonsense”. But we must be wary and let the true long term interest of every group in Nigeria, large and small, guide the actions of the group in the Nigerian political arena. Of course, the true long term interest of every group in Nigeria is the permanence of one Nigeria, restructured to make things work.
Do you think the current move to amend the constitution would reduce the political tension in the country?
To this I think my answer is yes. But we really need to remove sources of tension, not just to reduce tension. The National Assembly is not in a position to go far enough. Their role is really to repair some cracks on the walls of the house. Rebuilding the house, belongs to the owners of the house. We should not allow our current positions in the system becloud our thinking about long term remedies. That the members of the NASS have conflict of interests which disqualifies them from rebuilding the house, can easily be seen when we consider how they would deal with whether unicameral or bicameral legislature is best for the country. As humans, they must have difficulty with dealing with this issue objectively.
What are the most critical issues that the Constitution review should address?
Among the most issues are: the federating units, true federalism, remedying the defects of one national police with zonal police, not state police, for which our level of moral development cannot support and fiscal federalism, the derivation principle, with adequate provision for national interest etc.
Some are kicking that state creation should not be part of the amendment. The argument to support this position is that even most of the existing states are no longer viable. As one from the South East, do you agree with that position?
On the issue of one extra state for the South East, Nigeria politicians have shown great understanding and a good sense of fairness. I participated in the Committee of Leaders who rounded up the affairs of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference. See how these eminent Nigerians, representing every area of Nigeria, decided on the issue of one extra state for the South East zone. There were 42 members, 39 voted for one extra state for South East to bring the zone into equality with the four zones, which have six states each. (North West has seven). Two members only, voted against and one member abstained from voting. The Presidential Constitutional Review Committee has sharpened the reason for the special treatment of the one extra state for the South East zone. There is an overwhelming national consensus on the matter. The idea of equality of zones is generally accepted. This can be achieved with seven or eight states per zone. But this is grossly inefficient as even most of the existing 36 states are clearly unviable. The optimum solution is to declare equality of zones while making the six geopolitical zones as the federating units. You may even consider 12-zone federating system, with each existing zone split into two, with necessary boundary adjustments. But this will definitely be less efficient than the six-zone system.
It seems the dream for an Igbo presidency may never be realized considering that it is most unlikely that Jonathan would handover to another southerner. What is your take on that?
I have dealt with issue of Igbo Nigeria President extensively in the past. I should like to come to you on another occasion on this. However, the following summary statements are relevant. The principle of zoning and rotation have meaning only in the context of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. North/South alternation is not rotation and has never been a national policy. The federal character principle captures the essence of power sharing and rotation of leadership. Zonal rotation of power is an extension of that principle. The zones are what Nigeria uses for power sharing and rotation of leadership since 1995. There is even an extra minister per zone. The famous PDP Constitution provides for the zones as the basis of rotation. By 2015, every zone in Nigeria, except the South East, shall have supplied Nigeria with Chief Executive Officer for more than five years. Only the South East is left out. What will be the equity, justice and fairness, if Jonathan is to hand over to a zone which has held Nigerian Chief Executive Officer position for more than five years, rather than to the South East, the only zone that has been out in the cold. If you take the tripodal position in Nigeria, only the Igbo, of the three legs of the tripod, has not held the office – the Hausa/Fulani has, the Yoruba has. Someone, who seemed to have some problem of memory loss about history, recently talked about the American and the Nigerian civil wars and the necessary effect on access to power by the defeated. Perhaps it is necessary to remind some people about the Nigerian war. In 1966, with pogrom and other deprivations and iniquities, Nigerians declared their rejection of the easterners. The rejected people refused to reject themselves but rather decided to build a world of their own. When Nigeria changed her mind and decided to keep Nigeria one, the rejected people dutifully co-operated, since they did not want to be outside Nigeria, if they could help it. A neighbouring country provided an opportunity for one Nigeria, where things would work. A solution was worked out and agreed. The rejected ones happily prepared to rejoin Nigeria, Nigeria unilaterally and unceremoniously reneged on the agreed terms and forced a war “to keep Nigeria one”. Can any sensible person see a relationship with the American civil war in this? But, really, when will Nigerian interest predominate. Which Nigerians have played the role of developing, commercializing and opening the eyes of other Nigerians? Which Nigerians create values where hitherto no values were known to exist? Which group of Nigerians have voted with their feet for one Nigeria and are making home of, and actively developing and improving everywhere they are. When will it be the turn of economic development and growth of Nigeria – development in line with her manifest destiny? Which Nigerian will find it necessary to spread development fairly evenly across Nigeria, in order to satisfy his own people, who live everywhere in Nigeria? I shall discuss this issue further when we meet again.
Are Igbos ready in the event that such an opportunity calls especially against the perception that they cannot speak with one voice?
Some people are in for a dumbfounding surprise. But that will be because they do not pay attention to Igbo behaviour over issues that the Igbo consider important to themselves. On the issue of 2015 Igbo agenda, please put your ears on the ground. Yes you will hear, not one voice, but very many different voices. Note, however, that the multitude of voices are saying the same thing. It is not many voices, but discordant voices that cause problems. How disunited were the Igbo in burying Ojukwu? Giving him such burial honour that no human, born of a woman, has ever received. In “disunity”, we dumped “all our eggs in Jonathan basket” – the initial serious division among some elite notwithstanding. Truly, yes, we have no leader that dictates the direction we all must follow. We really do not need one, as long as good reasoning, available to most of us, guides decisions. Our shoemakers, farmers, welders, truck pushers, drivers, generally all our people, recognise and appreciate the truth and what makes sense. That is the leader we follow. We also know ourselves, the antecedents of each of us, we know who to trust. No group, out of national power for decades, like the Igbo, can have the coherence of our people. Look around. Count your teeth with your tongue. And now that an arch, ardent hater of our people, has begun to anoint presidential candidates and their running mates, to spite us, it must do some good to our coherence. For those who did not know before, will now know.
Are you not worried over the infighting among governors of the South East in recent time?
Do you know that for about more than half a decade, one person has been Chairman of South East Governor’s Forum. You cannot take the necessary adjustment to any new element as infighting. Or are people seeing in the unity of our governors the antithesis of what they wish us.
Do you support the economic integration of the South East zone?
We have a document on economic integration, endorsed by all the governors. It is an idea whose time has come. Nobody can resist it. Look at the West. They are very advanced in it. Now the South South, as diverse as they are, they have embraced integration. Should there be a problem, we can, creatively, work out an acceptable solution or compromise. There is this possibility of a device that can be called “Federally Administered States”, if it becomes necessary. A resort to such a device is becoming increasingly unlikely, as communication improves among groups.
What is the future of the country considering that so many people seem to be losing hope on its continued unity?
Because God lives, because God created Nigeria for His purpose, though through the instrumentality of British imperialism, which appeared to have deliberately sowed the seed for self-destruction in the country because the permanence of Nigeria is in the true long term interest of every group in Nigeria, and because the Nigerian people are headed for “We the people of Nigeria .. hereby make and give unto ourselves this Constitution” (for peace and progress), Nigeria has come to stay.